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Kingdom of the Silver Cat
The Sapphire Fruit Chronicles #1
by Thomas M Carroll
Oriafen Books, $15.95, 410pp
Published: December 2020

A routine morning ride on a school bus plunges fifteen children into a mysterious world in this sparkling debut fantasy for middle grade and tween readers.

On a seemingly normal day, an old school bus known as the "yellow beast" passes through a blue light in the road and is transported to an empty field in a strange land. When the bus gets stuck in mud and cellphones don't work, the driver, Ben, heads off to look for help.

Adjusting to their curious environment, the children begin to experience strange powers: Gabrielle can fly on her skateboard, Annie can freeze time, Emma can warp light, and Ted can make music by waving his hands around.

When Ben fails to return, the kids begin to explore the land, taking trails that appear and disappear, and encountering strange creatures, such as playful clouds, thundering fireballs, talking fish, and bouncing bears. But soon terrifying winged beasts begin hunting them, and the children must flee for their lives.

They become separated, some finding a land of colorful warrior fairies, while others meet an old hermit who has his own strange power. The children learn their powers are called "gifts", but with each gift comes a weakness. And, the winged beasts have been sent by an evil ruler, Sidtarr, who seeks to capture the children and use their gifts for himself.

Some of the children head south to the kingdom of a renowned silver cat who may protect them, while others head north toward Sidtar's realm. Along the way, the kids face inner conflicts from the weaknesses that accompany their gifts and personal hardships they have endured. They find help in unexpected places and undergo trials and dangers as they journey through this mysterious land.

Kingdom of the Silver Cat is a story of friendship, adversity, self-discovery and trust in a magical world. It is the first book in a planned series called The Sapphire Fruit Chronicles.

On a wet rainy morning, fifteen children ranging in age from 8 to 13 get on their town school bus for their regular trip to school. The bus turns a corner, runs into a wall of blue mist and ends up stuck in the mud in a sunny meadow with nothing but fields and trees around them.  When noone’s cell phone can get a signal, the school bus driver, Ben, tells the children to stay on the bus while he looks for help. But Ben does not come back and the children are left on their own to deal with an increasingly different world. During the night a strange mist creature attacks them; when they go looking for food and water the next day the path back to the bus disappears. As they go further into this strange new land, they discover talking fish and fairies as well as discovering that each of them has some magical power. Told that only the Silver Cat can help them get home they head for the Cat’s city. Along the way the children get split up and some are captured by Sidtar, who wishes to strip their powers from them for himself.

This was an interesting read. The children are all fleshed-out individual characters, perhaps a bit too cooperate and nice to each other but generally a good representation of how real children behave in groups. The group is diverse so most children should be able to find a child like themselves in the group.  There is some darkness but not such that it would be too frightening for the younger middle school reader. While my e-copy from Netgalley did not include them, other than the thumbnail sketches of the children and a map at the beginning, the book includes illustrations by Linda Huang and Jackie Carroll. Aimed at middle school and tween readers this fantasy will also appeal to the young-at-heart adult reader. I eagerly look forward to the next chapter in this series. Highly recommended. ~~ Stephanie L Bannon

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